Schaefer seeks to limit ability to impose death penalty

February 03, 1994|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,Sun Staff Writer

At a time when the public is clamoring for tough new laws against crime, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has quietly proposed legislation that would significantly limit the ability of Maryland juries to impose the death penalty.

The governor is trying to delete four of the 10 justifications for imposing the death penalty under state law. He would remove arranging or commiting contract killings, murders in prisons and killings during an escape from lawful custody.

Page W. Boinest, the governor's press secretary, said yesterday Mr. Schaefer wants to limit the number of death penalty cases and appeals and to focus the maximum punishment on the most heinous crimes.

Ms. Boinest said that the governor considers all of the circumstances now outlined in the law to be serious but that the four he wants to delete are not as bad as the other six.

Six justifications for imposing the death penalty would remain on the law books. They include killing during the commission of a rape, kidnapping or carjacking, multiple murders and the killing of a law enforcement officer.

The governor's proposals are part of a larger death penalty reform bill that heads for a hearing today before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Most of the bill's provisions were recommended by a state advisory commission that studied the death penalty last year. But limiting the circumstances in which the death penalty could be imposed was the governor's idea, Ms. Boinest said.

The committee chairman, Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil, did not give the proposed new limits much chance of surviving. "All of that's coming out" of the bill, he said yesterday.

The governor's proposal would have at least one immediate effect, according to a Baltimore County prosecutor: It would prevent a death sentence for a drug lord who paid $9,000 to have two federal witnesses killed in 1983.

Sue A. Schenning, a deputy state's attorney, said that deleting contract killings would prevent her from seeking the death penalty against Anthony Grandison, who is awaiting a resentencing for the crime in Somerset County Circuit Court.

Ms. Schenning said that she otherwise strongly supports the governor's proposal.

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